The Contributors' Club

I FIND that years have brought about in me a change of taste as regards literary style. Not that I have learned to consider it a matter of indifference, or to sympathize with a contributor who once expressed in the Club his satisfaction in looking forward to a time when the thing we call style should pass out of literature, leaving to readers only the pleasure of feeling themselves in company with a “just and wholesome mind.” I rejoice to believe that such an era will never arrive, since a literature cannot exist without literary styles, more or less strongly marked, good or bad, finished or faulty. Perhaps the advocate of the extreme view above mentioned may have been moved to express himself thus strongly in consequence of a very natural reaction against the “ fine ” writing, so called, indulged in by many pseudo-cultivated authors of to-day. A plainness approaching to baldness is without doubt infinitely preferable to these tasteless attempts at ornate style. Yet even when language is handled by a master who intends that his words shall serve an æsthetic purpose beyond

the simple setting forth of his thought, it is a question if the purpose does not sometimes defeat itself in the end, if the writer continue to address our ear. For a time he may enchant his readers, as Mr. Ruskin has enchanted so many of us with the music and color of his pages ; but do we not after a while find ourselves wearying of this very affluence, and turning away to read in some author who, less captivating on first acquaintance, seems to retain a singular power to please ? The preference for simplicity and repose in style grows, I think, with the habitual reader, and the more as he comes to recognize these qualities as the outcome of the finest art, and for that reason the most rarely to be met with. The stately structure of De Quincey’s sentences do not fail to impress all who have what may be called the literary sense, and the impressive power of his “ impassioned prose ” we may continue to feel at a later stage of culture; but it is certain that in the earlier years, when we first knew and reveled in De Quincey, we should not have been susceptible to the attraction of other writers who now delight our maturer taste. In gratitude for the pleasure he has given me, let me name here an author who possesses in a high degree the charm of an exquisite simplicity, mixed with a graciousness, a sweetness, — there seems no other word for it, — which is all his own. I mean the English author of Philochristus and other works, — the Rev. Edwin Abbott. We may be reminded, in reading him, of the author of Ecce Homo, but there is a directness and a gentleness in Mr. Abbott’s manner, as of friend talking with friend, which is wanting to Mr. Seelye’s more professorial style. Compare with the firstnamed author Mr. Matthew Arnold, whose style is simple enough, surely, in the sense of being devoid of ornament, but tending to become wearisome with its trick of repetition and air of condescension to the level of his reader’s intelligence. As the perfection of some well-bred persons’ manners seems to lie in their having no manner at all, so the never-failing charm of certain writers appears, so far as we can analyze it, to consist in the absolute ease and delicate simplicity of their style. Mr. John Morley, himself a writer of weighty and effective prose, describes Voltaire’s style as of “dazzling” simplicity, moving like a translucent mountain stream with swift and animated flow under flashing sunbeams ; but again alters his figure, and calls the light that illumines the great Frenchman’s page the “ piercing metallic brightness of electricity rather than the glowing beam of the sun.” Simplicity, then, may be of more than one kind, if Voltaire is to be spoken of as simple, and the brilliant clearness of Voltaire’s mode of expression differs from the serene and limpid current of George Sand’s best prose. Certain writers of to-day so offend me by the vicious affectation of their style that I have not the patience to read them. Mr. Pater is one of these. I find him unbearably conscious, without real dignity or virility, his search after recondite words and novel turns of expression proving him, to my mind, a skillful artificer rather thau the true artist, whose highest results are obtained at the least apparent expense of means. Mr. Symonds’s manner, otherwise agreeable, is marred by something of this same consciousness and elaboration.

Unaffectedness and ease, it is true, do not of themselves alone constitute a graceful manner of writing, but surely they are primary ingredients. It is true also that there is no such thing as an ideal of style, in the sense of a single manner prescribed for all, any more than there is an ideal of painting. Each literary artist has his own manner, as Michael Angelo, and Titian, and Turner each had his. And if culture means anything, it means a catholicity of taste which enables us to delight in Milton, and Hooker, and Taylor, and John Henry Newman, in Addison and Lamb, in Mr. Froude and Mr. Green.

— Why is it that preachers and moralists have from time immemorial preferred to dwell so exclusively on the temptations of riches, neglecting to point out the temptations of poverty ? And why is it that the world in general has been so ready to perceive the dangers attendant on the possession of exceptional and brilliant gifts of mind or person, and so slow in recognizing the moral peril to which men may be exposed by the very lack of talents and personal graces ? I do not think we commonly conceive in any adequate way of the temptations that may besiege men and women able to appreciate the value of intellectual gifts or personal charms which nature has denied to themselves. Is it easy to be at all times quite reconciled to doing without things which we see making so large a part of the happiness of the lives of more fortunate people ? A woman may know herself to be without beauty or fascination of any sort, yet knowledge of the fact somehow does not suffice to hinder her from longing for admiration and influence ; her craving for these we may admit to be foolish, perhaps even sinful, but is it unnatural ? It is quite unreasonable for a man to desire distinction and supremacy while aware that he is destitute of the qualities that command them, but however unphilosophical, it is not altogether inexcusable. It is Daniel Deronda, I believe, who says that “ some people must be middling,”—an undeniable truth, but one which few care to believe is exemplified in their own particular persons. To know that our faces will no more than just “ pass in a crowd,” that we are not likely to be remembered for any special grace of manner or conversational charm, to become convinced, sooner or later, that our names will never be identified with any great achievement in art or letters, or in the broader fields of the world’s action — does it not cost something to accept such knowledge as simple fact, and bring ourselves to graceful resignation to our entire insignificance ?

George Eliot, with her usual power of sympathetic insight into human nature, has touched on this theme more than once in her writings. “ Plainness,” she says in Middlemarch, “ has its peculiar temptations as much as beauty. . . . To be spoken of as an ugly thing in contrast with that lovely creature your companion is apt to produce effects beyond a sense of fine veracity and fitness in the phrase. . . . Mary had not attained that perfect good sense and good principle which are usually recommended to the less fortunate girl as if they were to be obtained in quantities ready mixed, with a flavor of resignation as required.” Some persons, happily satisfied with their own modicum of intellect, are prone to wonder that others should have vain desires for superior gifts. There are men and women who crave hungrily after the material good things they have not ; others, free from this more ignoble appetite, are open to temptation of another sort, and cannot wholly subdue unavailing desires to be what they are not. And the pain of “ looking at joy through another’s eyes” may be unmixed with mean jealousy. George Eliot’s Walpurga, when she is driven to rouse Armgart from selfish despair by dealing her the wound of a faithful friend, asks her if she has ever stopped to think whether Walpurga could possibly need more than “ a splendid cousin for my happiness.” She reminds Armgart of the numbers who know joy but by negatives, whose

“ deepest passion is a pang,
Till they accept their pauper’s heritage,
And meekly live from out the general store.”

Armgart shall hear the truth, bitter but wholesome, from the lame girl whom no one has ever praised for being cheerful. “ ‘ It is well,’ they said; ‘ were she cross-grained, she could not be endured.’ ” This last line has always struck me with its pathetic force. How little account is made of the simple patience and humility with which hundreds of commonplace people bear their humdrum lives, accepting without complaint the restrictions imposed by nature as well as by circumstance. Did they lament and rebel, how intolerable their folly would appear to the well-endowed and prosperous.

— Palaces have their destinies, as well as books and men. That of Chantilly was, like the phenix, to rise from its ashes, and reveal to us of the nineteenth century, by its present magnificence, something of the splendors of the past.

The Duc d’Aumale has sought consolation and fame in two imperishable works: the Restoration of the Château of Chantilly, and the History of the Condés. As Charles V. evoked the spirit of Charlemagne, so has the Duc d’Aumale evoked that of the hero of his house, and shows himself to be the heir direct as well of his character and his love of great and beautiful things as of his race. And thus their two warlike figures will remain, however separated as to time, closely united for posterity. Louis de Bourbon and Henri d’Orleans will forever stand side by side, the past and present masters of Chantilly, the hero of Rocroy and the conqueror of the Smala, the friend of Corneille and the member of the Académie Française, the Maréchal of France who conquered Flanders and the general who has described that campaign in pages so glowing with the fire of battle that one would imagine that Condé himself had dictated them.

Were the Prince de Condé to return to his former abode, and with a step heavy with the weight of the laurels of his victories revisit his park, his palace, and its dependencies, he would find as he left them, his Gothic chapel, surmounted by a statue of St. Louis; the Vertugadin, that parterre, designed by Lenôtre, where Louis XIV. loved to wander ; the lordly stables, where three hundred horses find ample accommodation. His eyes would dwell again upon the earlier and more austere architecture of that part of the palace which dates from the Montmorencys, as well as upon his own grandiose construction.

Should he enter the great vestibule and turn towards the grand staircase, he might even suppose the court of Louis XIV. to have revived, and would find that the lovely dames to be met there now, their dress and headdress slightly altered, had lost none of the sovereign attractions of their predecessors. All the salons and galleries at Chantilly are open, and resplendent with light and beauty. First see this young and charming Muscovite princess, with her chestnut hair, her eyes sparkling with wit and her smile full of merriment, her slender waist and fully developed shoulders, looking as if she were a divinity escaped from one of Mignard’s pictures; she wears a robe of pale pink satin damasked in silver, with tufts of pink feathers and aigrettes of silver, and her throat is encircled by a necklace of nine rows of glorious pearls. And is not this Madame Henriette de France who appears next before us in the soft dark folds of her velvet dress, blue, of the blue called Eyes of Kings, wearing the colors and the monogram of the House of Orleans, walking like a goddess with her aerial step? No, it is Madame la Duchesse de Chartres, as bewitching as the former, but far more happy.

After the healthy fatigue of the hunt, or the delicious gallop over the thick carpet of autumn leaves, what exquisite pleasure to find one’s self, in the evening, in the dazzling atmosphere of this royal dwelling, amid the lights, the flowers, the rare marvels of art, the rustling of silks, the busy hum of joyous converse, the ringing laugh of happy women, and the light rustling of their fans!

Some of these favored guests go here, and some go there, as fancy lists. The ladies group themselves in the White Drawing-Room. The Grand Duke Wladimir amuses himself in the Monkey Room (Singerie), a little boudoir peopled with monkeys, dressed in the style of Louis XV. This is a grotesque assembly ! The Monkey King, glorying in his purple and scarlet; the Monkey Messenger, bearing gallantly a love token to some fair Sultana; the Huntsman Monkey, the Monkey Musician, the Monkey Apothecary, the Gentleman Monkey, the Dandy Monkey, each believing his grimace alone to be irresistible; the whole furnishing so fine a satire that one is involuntarily reminded of Montesquieu’s famous Lettres Persanes, and Beaumarchais’s Comedies, which sting, while they amuse. This High Monkey Court, the work of an artist and satirist, offers no bad resemblance to vain humanity. The modest evolutionists of our day might look with tenderness upon the images of these little animals, as they might upon the portraits of their ancestors.

The furniture of this Monkeydom is in the style of Louis XV., with Chinese embroideries. All, even to the Sèvres vases in pâte tendre, which decorate the mantelpiece, has an air of originality corresponding to this fantastical domain.

In the Pink Drawing-Room the furniture is covered with Gobelin tapestries, the ground of which is a rose shade of most exquisite delicacy. The Vierge d’Orleans, the family treasure, one of the most divine of the works of Raphael, hangs in this room.

In the Salon des Chasses may be seen under convex glass cases, a collection of manuscripts relating to the achievements of the lovers of vénerie, adorned with miniatures, unique in their way.

A new work is rarely added to these relics of the arts, but should one be admitted, it is thereby stamped as a masterpiece of contemporaneous art. Thus in the Salon d’Europe, on the mantelpiece, hung with tapestry of the sixteenth century representing the carrying off of Europa, may be seen a clock from Fromont-Meurice, the Parisian jewelers, a group of ivory and silver worthy to be signed Cellini.

The Gallery of Battles is dedicated to the conqueror of Senef and the companions of his victories. There are the paintings illustrating the glorious life of the man whose fame is still so dear to France: Rocroy, Nordlingen, Lens, Freiburg, the Passage of the Rhine. The portrait of the great captain is perceived through plate glass: his brown head, his eagle nose, and the genius which flashes in his eyes, all bespeak the man.

The library forms a small gallery, and a portrait of the great Condé, taken in his youth, surmounts the high chimney-piece. The prince has placed his most precious books on the lower shelves in order to have them near at hand, He possesses a rich collection of old French Gothic editions, and Elzevirs and Plantins without number. Modern works, above all those of his colleagues of the Institute, clothed in sumptuous bindings, figure in the place of honor.

The Châtelain of Chantilly is profoundly erudite. One wonders when he could have found time and opportunity to learn so many things, and to class them in such order in his head. So much learning joined to a mind eminently French, quick, lively, and soldier-like, affords incomparable pleasure to his friends. This prince has the art which so few possess, of saying the right thing just when it ought to be said, and in the manner which can give most pleasure in the saying. Few have such tact, not to speak of his noble eloquence.

Not one word of politics was spoken at Chantilly during the four days’ reception given in honor of their Russian Highnesses. The topics touched upon were the hunt, literature, pictures, curiosities, the drama, music, the French Academy, travel, etc. The Duc de Chartres related, with his usual vivacity, his excursions in the Caucasus and in Sweden, whence he brought the rarest and most beautiful gold embroidered stuffs, and picturesque jewels, to his wife. The Grand Duke Wladimir, President of the Fine Arts’ Society of St. Petersburg, has the passion for the painting and curiosities of the eighteenth century of a true Paris-Athenian.

A banquet was given at Chantilly in honor of the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess, on the occasion of the festival of Saint Hubert, the patron of hunters. In the grand dining hall, high on the table, amidst the sparkle of light and crystal, stood the famous and charming centrepiece, called “des Chasseurs,” — a hunt in Sèvres china of the time of Louis XVI., doubly dear to the Duc d’Aumale as having formerly decorated the table of King Louis Philippe. The great saint, painted by Baudry, seemed to preside over the feast, and his features to bear no slight resemblance to the martial traits of the Duc de Chartres. A host of great ladies added lustre to the

occasion. Among these the Princesses Amélie and Marie d’Orleans were worthy to figure in their uncle’s collection of Watteau’s pictures — for these two young girls, with their delicately royal profiles and their blonde hair, are often compared to the emblematic lilies of France.